The Broaderview: Chiang Mai, Thailand
The Broaderview is a monthly series by broad Laura Turner, a Denver local traveling the world with Remote Year. Every month, Laura moves to a new country with approximately 60 other digital nomads. The Broaderview is a glimpse into the life of a local woman in each country, getting a sense of what it means to be a broad beyond the Mile High City. This month, Laura interviewed Sister Anurak in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
By Laura Turner | Global Content Contributor
As I quickly discovered, an important method of transportation in Thailand is on a moped. People will fit their entire families on the back of a scooter or transport large items while zipping around traffic jams of cars and three wheeled tuk tuks. I rented a moped for the month and am glad my confidence got better over time because it was an adventure outside of Chiang Mai to get to Wildflower Home. After about 30 minutes outside of the city, streets turned into a narrow, quiet lane. Wildflower Home is an unassuming complex nestled into the Thai countryside. The air is cleaner and birds call from verdant trees and low hanging vines. This is an idyllic setting for a place dedicated to helping women who have been abused by husbands or subject to other domestic violence. Sister Anurak is one of the driving forces behind Wildflower Home’s daily operations.
Sister Anurak grew up in the old capital of Thailand called Ayutthaya. She left left her hometown to go to Bangkok for high school. She had a boyfriend but thought to herself “‘is this it? Is this the direction of my life?’ I decided I wanted to do more than raise just one family. I wanted to be able to help many children. So I decided to become a nun. I started preparing at 19 and by 24 joined the order of The Sisters of the Good Shepherd founded by Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier. I liked that they focused on helping women and children.”
In the late ‘90s, Sister Anurak participated in initiatives offering services to women living with HIV. These women were often completely cast out of Thai society and religious organizations were the few to provide support. Sister Anurak later earned a degree in Psychology to better understand and serve those who were suffering. Initially, Wildflower Home was opened by Maryknoll Lay Missioners from New York but once they had to move on to their next project they contacted The Sisters of the Good Shepherd who then recommend Sister Anurak to be in charge of the home.
Currently Wildflower Home can house up to 12 women with 1-3 children each. Often women come via word of mouth. Many who live at Wildflower Home are abused women or single mothers from Thai tribal communities in the nearby mountains where men hold absolute control and power in households. It takes courage for these women to leave their husbands and seek refuge because it is often still taboo to leave, even if constantly subjected to domestic violence. Women are allowed to stay for as long or as short of a time as they need at Wildflower. Sister Anurak said that could be anywhere from 2 nights to 6 months. The women are taught how to garden and much of the food served at Wildflower Home comes from its property. Children receive free childcare and early education from volunteers. Women are also encouraged to make crafts of their choosing which are then sold to generate funds for the home.
I asked Sister Anurak about Thai social perceptions of domestic violence and she said much of it has to do with women not being respected or allowed to have autonomy. I asked her opinion about how there could be a shift in Thai culture and hopefully less cases of domestic violence. She speculated that perhaps the only way for major change is “the new generation of sons need to be raised by mothers who make sure the boys who will then become men understand how to respect and treat a woman with kindness. They need to be comfortable and to know in their hearts that it is not emasculating but instead is the just thing to respect women.”
One of my favorite comments from Sister Anurak happened when I was about to say goodbye. Out of curiosity, as I was about to say goodbye, I asked Sister Anurak how many of the women at Wildflower were practicing Catholics. “Some are, many aren’t,” she replied. “Buddhism is strong here and also many of the tribal women grew up with animist religions. Here we don’t try to convert women, they will believe what they choose to believe and that’s that. It’s my job to simply support and value their lives after they have endured so much struggle and hardship. Especially when they have been shunned from families and are seen as taboo as a single mother with no husband, often showing compassion and holding a safe space for them and cherishing them as an individual can be the most wonderful thing.”